5 Factors That Could Prevent the Washington Redskins from Winning the NFC East
Without overreacting, a fairly objective viewpoint suggests that Monday night's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles exposed multiple factors that could potentially prevent the Washington Redskins from defending their title as NFC East division champions.
Entering the 2013 season, the Burgundy and Gold were by no means a consensus pick to repeat.
However, with a young and talented team and limitless room for improvement, many did expect Washington to ultimately emerge from the East.
Just one week into the season, we can throw all of those predictions out. The Redskins looked like a shell of themselves offensively in the first half, and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly's new offense made Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's defense look like a mid-major school against Oregon.
Of course, we can't jump to conclusions after 60 minutes of play in 2013. But we can certainly identify some weaknesses in Washington.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on.
Robert Griffin III's Knee
Let's start with the obvious.
Everyone and their mother knew coming into the 2013 season that Washington's success was going to hinge on the health of Robert Griffin III's knee.
And after a shaky season opener, many are rightfully calling RGIII's status into question.
It wasn't the lack of explosive acceleration by the quarterback against Philadelphia that troubled fans as much as Griffin's improper mechanics.
Perhaps it was the nerves coming back from major surgery, seeing live action in front of a sellout home crowd for the first time. Or maybe he isn't yet comfortable enough to really plant that left leg.
Time and time again we saw Griffin imbalanced, throwing off his back foot. Because he is so talented, his arm strength alone managed to bring the Redskins within six points of the Eagles.
But there's no denying that RGIII will have to start stepping into his throws if the Redskins are going to beat top-tier defenses and contend for an NFC title.
After watching him come back in the second half, Washington's fanbase can justifiably remain optimistic about the future. However, you don't have to live in the nation's capital to know that the Burgundy and Gold will only go as far as Robert Griffin III can take them.
An Inexperienced Secondary
The other glaring weakness that was exposed during Monday night's contest against Philadelphia was the Redskins' inexperienced secondary.
Of course, the absence of Brandon Meriweather at the safety position didn't help, but Washington's defensive backs looked silly on multiple occasions in Week 1.
Whether it was Deangelo Hall's blown coverage on the DeSean Jackson touchdown or repeatedly missed tackles on LeSean McCoy, there are no excuses for the Redskins' first-half performance.
Some people point to Chip Kelly's uptempo offense for tiring out Washington's defense. And yes, that certainly played a role in Michael Vick's dismantling of Jim Haslett's secondary.
But regardless of the quarterback, regardless of the system, the Redskins must improve at the cornerback and safety positions. Moreover, Washington must learn to tackle ball-carriers one-on-one.
The good news is that Bacarri Rambo won't be seeing McCoy again until mid-November.
The bad news? This week he has Aaron Rodgers to worry about.
Chip Kelly's Offense
A third factor that could ultimately stand between Washington and an NFC East division crown actually has nothing at all to do with the Redskins.
Chip Kelly surprised the football world on Monday night with the introduction of his fast-paced offense from Oregon. Thanks in part to turnovers, Philadelphia managed to run 53 offensive plays in the first half alone.
The complex system featured obscure formations, restless tempo and gaping running lanes for LeSean McCoy. Of course, the absence of film on Kelly's new system played a factor in its success; however, Michael Vick estimated the Eagles displayed only 60 percent of the offense against Washington in his postgame interview.
What's more is that Chip Kelly actually characterized monday's pace as "slow," per The Associated Press (via Sporting News). If "slow" is going to leave opposing defenses as winded as Washington was in Week 1, then the rest of the league may be in for a treat.
As always, the Redskins will control their own destiny. With 15 games left, including one in Philadelphia, head coach Mike Shanahan and Co. have ample opportunity to gain ground in the standings.
But if the league is unable to keep up with the Eagles, look for McCoy and Philadelphia to put up unprecedented offensive numbers.
Beyond the obvious rust in Robert Griffin III's play, there was an alarming aspect to the Redskins' performance on Monday night.
Last season's second-leading rusher, Alfred Morris, totaled just 45 yards on 12 carries.
Forget the fumble and the botched toss in the end zone, the apparent diversion away from the read-option offense is cause for concern in Washington.
Without taking anything away from the 2012 sixth-round draft pick, Morris' success a season ago can largely be attributed to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's implementation of the option.
Now, if Griffin's legs are compromised to any degree, opposing defenses gain a crucial advantage in the running game.
There is no question it is far too early to tell. Morris did find his way through several sizable holes after all. But any significant alterations to the offense by the Redskins or any effective defensive adjustments by the league could prove costly to Washington.
With the 30th-ranked pass defense, the Burgundy and Gold relied heavily on their own rushing attack to control the time of possession in 2012.
If Griffin and Morris are unable to keep opposing quarterbacks off the field, the Redskins could be looking at a mediocre record in the competitive NFC East.
The last factor that could prevent Washington from repeating as division champ is simply uncontrollable.
With success comes expectations. And with expectations comes a tougher schedule.
That's exactly what the Redskins have in 2013. And it all began with the vastly improved Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1.
Technically, Mike Shanahan's group ranks toward the middle of the pack in terms of strength in schedule. However, a quick glance at the 16-game slate might tell you otherwise.
The highly underestimated Eagles will be followed by a matchup with last season's NFC North champion Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field this coming Sunday.
Aside from obvious divisional games, Washington has several formidable opponents to contend with.
Equally as disappointing, the Jacksonville Jaguars don't appear anywhere on the schedule.